When life gives you lemons, go ride Lemonade!

The Dragon's Tail and Lots More

We followed highway 30 from Murfreesboro to Tellico Plains, the start of the Cherohala Skyway.  I had led to this point and now Sean takes the lead along the ridge tops that the Skyway follows.  This is a very popular motorcycle road.  It has no crossroads, driveways, stop signs or billboards.  It is just miles of hills and turns.

We are taking it to get near the Ironhorse Motorcycle Campground and Lodges, a place where I had made reservations.  This very popular place has been open for ten years and has gained a great reputation with motorcyclists.  A reputation that is well deserved.  As I write this we have been here for 5 days and the facilities and food are excellent.  The prime rib on Saturday night is fantastic.  My only complaint is that, like most campgrounds, the restrooms are nearest to the RV section.  Those people have indoor plumbing which the tent campers do not.

Sean had some friends, Brian and Kim, that were coming his way along their trip so they headed to the Ironhorse and arrived a day ahead of us.  They  rented a room in the lodge and we set up in the campground on nice gravel pad with Sean in reach of our electrical hookup.

The Ironhorse has covered parking for bikes and provides cloths to wipe down or wash your bike, for free.

The main reason I had chosen this place was that it is centrally located for several famous, named motorcycle roads.




The next day Kathy had an attack of her sinuses.  The spring pollen is flying and she is not feeling well.  But the rest of us took off to ride the Moonshiner 28.  This runs south from camp and we made a loop of it by coming back north farther to the east where we picked up a piece of the Blue Ridge Parkway too.




From right to left, Sean, Brian, Kim.  Then my bike and Sean's.

The Moonshiner 28 runs past several waterfalls, one of which Bridal Veil, you can ride behind.

There are no riding pictures of this day because Kathy stayed in camp and I can't take pictures and control the bike on very windy roads.

Our tent trailer is in need of new tires.  There is a local motorcycle repair and tire shop named Wheeler's with a good reputation.  The next day I want to go and order a tire to match the spare before doing the day's ride.  We are all going to ride the Dragon's Tail today but Kathy and I are going to be running behind with the stop at Wheeler's.  We arrive just as he opens and find that he cannot match the tire.  I want to get the tire ordered so that it can arrive during our week's stay here.  We ride off without that problem solved and head for Deal's Gap, the start of the Dragon.  We had breakfast at the Deal's Gap Resort and met up with Sean, Brian and Kim.  But they were just arriving as we were ready to leave down the Dragon.  So we again parted for the day.

The Dragon's Tail is probably the most well-known motorcycle road in the USA.  It is a goal of most road bikers to add this to the list of roads ridden.  All of the "Top 10 Roads" collections include it.  It is a fun road to ride.  But it is not a particularly technical ride.  The curves and grades are mostly moderate and easy to negotiate.  It is eleven miles long and there are a claimed 318 turns in that distance.  It takes about twenty minutes to ride it keeping near the speed limit of 30 mph.  Lots of bikers want to do it at a speed that challenges their riding ability.  This means speeding and the cops know it and are often there.  We ran it three times, once down, once up and then back down again.  The first time the cop was sitting in a turnout and checking your speed.  The return trip he was headed down the road.  After we took a break at the tourist shop we headed down it again and ran up against a blockage.  At first we thought that someone going too fast had crashed.  That is almost a daily occurrence.  We parked and walked up to the front.  There were enough bikers there that any aid or calls that needed to be made would have already been made.  We were wondering about getting through or turning around.  When we got to the corner we saw that no one was injured, a very good thing, but that no one was going anywhere for a while.  An illegal truck was stuck.




Trucks are prohibited from this highway without a special permit from North Carolina's DOT.  I seriously doubt that this truck driver had one.  He has no load on and I doubt that an empty truck would have enough reason to get a permit.  It is several hours longer for them to go around and one tries to sneak through regularly.

This one forced the green and black Harleys onto the shoulder of the road very near to where they are parked, and then couldn't complete the corner without running over them.  So he had to stop.  Notice the man with the black shirt and tan pants in the rear.  He is the police officer that we had seen twice before.  I don't think the truck driver was very happy to see him.  Nobody was hurt, just scared badly.  After the Harleys were moved the truck pulled on through the curve and was directed to stop in the right hand lane.  The officer then directed traffic until everyone, cars and bikes, got by.  I imagine this is when the truck driver's day got even worse.

After running the Dragon three times we continued on around the west end of the Great Smokey Mountains NP to the Cades Cove area.  This is a road that leads to a pioneer settled valley (cove in the local vernacular).  There is a one-way seven mile loop on a narrow paved road.  Although there are lots of signs telling visitors to be courteous and use turnouts, no one does.  


And every wildlife that is seen stops traffic while each car in turn takes pictures of it.  The average speed is less than 5 mph, and that is when you're moving!  This picture has a deer on the shoulder and we are completely stopped while each, in turn, stops to take their pictures.  There were lots of turnouts and I beeped my horn at some drivers to force them into one after they had passed some without moving over.

We were so glad to get out of there.

Sean, Brian and Kim also went there after the Dragon.  They had to pull over and stop to let Brian and Kim, and their Harleys, cool down.  The heat off the engines at that slow speed was cooking their legs.

We returned to the Ironhorse by using the road through the middle of the Park and eating in Bryson City, not far from camp.  The others went to Gatlinburg to eat at a steakhouse they knew.  They didn't get back until late having crossed the Park in the dark.  This is when they described their Cades Cove ride, in disgust at the cars that wouldn't pull over but stopped in the road to take pictures.

On Thursday Sean, Brian and Kim had to leave.  We said our farewells in the morning.  We hadn't spent as much time together as we had planned earlier but the time we did have was very enjoyable.  Too bad Kathy missed most of it by being laid up with her pollen allergy.

That day we rode back up into the Park, the same road we took the day before but the opposite direction.  This time at the ridge we turned off to Clingman's Dome.  From the parking lot there is a half-mile trail that leads to the lookout which has a circular ramp, rather than stairs, to the top.  This is the second highest place in the Appalachians.  The view was a bit hazy but still spectacular.

While we were together Sean, who's last name is Murphy, had told us about a road he had found on a previous trip to the area.  He raved so much that we started calling it Murph's Tale.    Sort of like the Dragon's Tail, but this was Murph's Tale.



At the southwest edge of the Park is the Dragon.  On the opposite side is Murph's Tale at the northeast.  It is Highway 32 and runs eleven miles (same as the Dragon) but probably only has 250 or so curves.  But the curves and grades are so much better than the Dragon.  It is technically a much more challenging ride with sharp turns right and left that also change grade with a hump or hollow.  I enjoyed this much more than the Dragon.  It reminded me of some of the more challenging roads in Europe or Mexico.  Thank you Sean for introducing us to Murph's Tale.




But those of you reading this and hoping someday to challenge Murph's Tale, it has one very big difference from the Dragon.  The last mile is gravel!  It leads downhill with some sharp curves to a paved road that meets up with I-40 near the state line.  Some of you may think this is a disadvantage if you don't ride gravel.  But it is really an advantage, because then you have to turn around and ride Murph's Tale twice and get twice the fun!






We have been riding about 250 miles each day since arriving and have topped 10,000 miles for this trip.  On these roads that is a full day in the saddle.  The first day, when we rode the Moonshiner 28, the route we took led past "The Cradle of Forestry".  But we didn't have time to stop, besides the others did not have my interest in the site.  As a retired forester visiting the very first forestry school in the USA is a priority.  The Vanderbilt Family had bought, in the 1880's, thousands of acres of farms and forest near their palatial home, much of it abandoned and in poor shape.  They hired a man named Gifford Pinchot (later the first head of the US Forest Service) to manage it.  He started the school in 1891 but soon passed the leadership to a Dr. Schenck.  The students lived in abandoned farm houses and rode horses to class.  Here they are doing the calculations after having measured trees with the wooden calipers leaning against the log.  Many of the techniques and tools used when I went to forestry school in the late 60's were still in use.  Today computers and lasers have vastly changed many of the tools but the techniques would still be familiar to those students.

Because Kathy had missed the previous Moonshiner 28 I am doing it again.  But this time in the opposite direction.  And because I have a passenger this time here is a picture to show the road.  It curves and sweeps through the valleys and ridges with abandon.








The last important stop we are making while camped at the Ironhorse is to visit the Wheels Through Time Museum in Maggie Valley, NC.  It is half hour ride away.  While there we met Dale, the founder and owner.  He is a friendly soul with an intense interest in OLD motorcycles.  That means almost exclusively American bikes like Harley, Indian and Excelsior.

He came up to us while I was just finishing up wishing my mother a happy Mother's Day back home in Washington State.  We have no AT&T signal at the Ironhorse so I had to do it from town.  (They do have Verizon and a phone in the office that they'll let you use.)

The vast majority of the bikes at the museum are restored to a running condition but have not been restored to a new condition.  Almost all of these bikes run!  As we were leaving his son was running around the parking lot on a hundred year old bike.

Dale has raced in the 2012 Century race at Barber Motor Sports in Birmingham.  The bikes have to be at least a hundred years old to enter.

He also rode across the country in the 2010 Cannonball Run on a bike built in 1915.  He sponsored two bikes in the run with a friend riding the other bike also from 1915.



Dale does have some restored to new condition and he has a bunch of Harley powered tillers, snowplows and saws that were farm built.



There are two reading areas with hundreds of old motorcycle magazines.  Da le is also in the TV show "What's in the Barn" on the Velocity channel.

This museum was even more interesting than the Barber Motorsports Museum we visited about 10 days ago.  This is much more hands-on and family friendly.  The Wheels Through Time doesn't flaunt the money spent.  And the bikes are in running condition but with all the dings and dents that come with thousands of miles and decades of riding.  This is a great museum with hundreds of bikes for the motorcycle enthusiast, even it there were no GoldWings!  We enjoyed it very much.

There are so many roads to ride in the area and we have only touched on a few.  When we leave we will be doing another, the Blue Ridge Parkway.  Oh, and that trailer tire I needed, I could not find a match so I have ordered two of the Carlisle USA Trail tires, that I started this trip with, from Firestone in Bryson City.  I'll keep the odd ball for a spare and have the new ones installed on the way out of town.  The entrance to the Parkway is just past Bryson City.  We have about 8,000 miles on one tire and about 6,000 on the one that replaced the flat we had in Texas.  That is much better than the 2,000 miles we got out of the cheap Wal-Mart tires we went to Cabo San Lucas on three years ago.  I'm sold on these 6-ply USA Trail tires for our trailer.

The Blue Ridge Parkway is next.